In the middle of the western mountains, new possibilities
For 18-year-old Lissy Samantha Suazo, the open space of Big Sky, Montana – a small town near Yellowstone National Park – was the start of bigger and bigger possibilities.
“When I came here to Big Sky, I was the second person of color and Spanish speaking in the school and the first who could not speak English,” said Suazo, who was 12 when her family was from Honduras.
Waded Cruzado’s journey through Montana began a few years before Suazo’s. She was hired in 2010 as president of Montana State University in Bozeman.
“I remember saying, ‘You know, I’ve never been to Montana. … Do you know what I look like? I don’t look like or look like anyone in Montana, ”said Cruzado, 61, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico. “But I was wrong.”
Hispanics have been in Montana since the early 1800s as fur traders, ranchers, railway workers and beet field workers, according to Bridget Kevane, professor of Latin American and Latin American studies at Montana State University.
But for the past two decades, Montana has been among the states with the fastest growing Latin American population in the country. Although the 45,199 Latinos who live in Montana are tiny compared to the 15.6 million Hispanics who live in California, the 58.2% jump in the number of Latino residents since 2010 has dominated all western states. of the United States over the past decade.
In California and New Mexico, Latinos make up half of the population under the age of 18.
- Idaho’s population has grown 17 percent, but its Latin American population has grown 36.1 percent over the past decade.
The timber industry in the northern part of the state and oil jobs in the east have attracted Latino workers, as have the resorts of Bozeman and Big Sky, Kevane said.
“Academics say this is a non-gateway state, which means there was no settled community already,” Kevane said of North Dakota. “But it could be in the next 20 years.”
Suazo and Cruzado have been a part of this past decade of Latino growth amidst the majestic outdoors – and tonic winters.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s one of the things that I had a hard time adjusting to, but now I love the cold and now I love the snow,” said Suazo, who regularly enjoys hike and walk.
Suazo’s family was in New York after arriving from Honduras when his father got a call to come and work at Big Sky. Since then, Suazo has taken advantage of the opportunities available to her.
Now in her final year in high school, the A-level student is spending a semester at a leadership academy in South Africa and has found meaning beyond academics, starting with when she helped another Honduran student to learn English and get your bearings.
Suazo developed this by starting a Latino student union at her high school, creating a nonprofit group, GLAM, to help people in other countries, including Honduras, and launching a Spanish language newspaper, Noticias Montaña, with friends who, among other things, keep Montana Latinos informed on local issues, including information related to Covid.
“At the end of the day, it’s the impact I have that makes me feel like I’m successful,” Suazo said.
While most Latinos in Montana are of Mexican descent, numbering around 30,000, around 2,000 are Puerto Rican, according to population estimates from the 2019 Census.
Cruzado, born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, left the United States to be dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at New Mexico State University. In 2009, after a nationwide search, she landed the senior MSU position.
Utah was the fastest growing state in the West …
… its Latin American population has grown twice as fast as that of the state. (Utah, 18.4%; Utah Latinos, 37.5%)
Eleven years after taking the helm, Cruzado has left his mark on the institution, helping to ensure that it lives up to its mission as a land grant university, originally intended to educate children of American working families.
“At MSU, we are not going to chase after privilege. We’re going to choose the promise, ”said Cruzado, a phrase she emphasizes regularly. “If we’re able to get this message to anyone – our Native American students or Latino students or African American students or Asian students, our students in rural Montana communities, what if we give it to them?” luck ?
Cruzado has launched a campaign to increase the average course credits taken by first-year students as well as a program to enroll more hesitant young people in college.
While she wishes she could see her granddaughters in Puerto Rico more often, Cruzado said she found kinship in the work ethic of residents of the state.
She shares her Puerto Rican cuisine with other Montanais and loves camping, soaking up the state’s stunning natural sites.
“I don’t focus on the differences,” she said. “I’m focused on what we can accomplish together. “